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What’s new in user log-in technology and design?

AvatarBy Beth Rutter
Category - Blog

Friday 24th November 2017

Authentication technology is continually moving forwards, but the user journey around remote access to content has long been an elephant in the room.

Although much of the research workflow is now taking place off-campus – and increasingly on tablets and smartphones – the remote user experience has always left a lot to be desired. This is particularly true where institutions have relied on IP recognition and the use of proxy services.

Streamlining remote access has been a major focus of discussion for a number of years, with real progress made in recent months through the actions of the Research Access in the 21st Century (RA21) initiative and the launch of OpenAthens Cloud – the results of which are discussed in this week’s webinar for UKSG members.

These developments have been built on a long history of standards and technologies designed to bridge the gap between on- and off-campus access to resources. Examples include Shibboleth and other SAML-based access management products, which aim to replace ‘traditional’ but less flexible IP-based approaches, while being able to offer support for personalised content for a better user experience.

Products such as those offered by OpenAthens can save time and overhead costs on implementation, and enable true single sign-on (SSO) scenarios. They help organisations tie resource access to their local faculty, employee, and student records, and streamline how readers connect with their organisation’s subscribed digital content.

Last year, OpenAthens launched its Publishers Manifesto – a series of commitments to make it even easier for users to connect with digital content. Key parts of the Manifesto include our pledge to make SSO simple to achieve for organisations, and to use common technology standards for interoperability. OpenAthens Cloud is a major step towards realising this. Using OpenID Connect technology means it’s the easiest version of OpenAthens software yet to install, and requires less investment in server space and developer expertise to maintain and customise.

Our Publisher Manifesto has also led us to explore new collaborations. For example, we’re working with the STM / NISO RA21 initiative to provide input into the pilot programmes and to test our new Wayfinder discovery tool against the RA21 use cases and requirements. OpenAthens Wayfinder simplifies the usual ‘Where Are You From’ (WAYF) steps for users, who no longer need to specify which access management federation they belong to. A combination of pre-fill technology and geolocation information quickly identifies the institutions a user might be from, minimising user effort.

These developments are the next steps towards the future of authentication. Our expectation is that SAML-based technologies and new approaches based on OpenID Connect will continue to replace IP-based systems – and that the security of user accounts will be enhanced with more widespread use of multi-factor authentication.

Of course, there’s still some way to travel until we reach the ideal friction-free scenario for access management across all devices. To achieve this goal, our developer teams stay actively involved in the latest technologies and standards – ensuring that OpenAthens continues to lead the way in identity and access management.

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